Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part 4, Chapter 2, "The Cusan: The World as God's Self-Restriction"

Blumenberg's interpretive approach to Cusa: his work can only be understood as an attempt to save the (intellectual order of the) Middle Ages. He must be seen as having grasped the instability of the medieval unity of God, man, and world. The unprecedented systematic unity of his thought must be seen as an attempt to conserve that unity.

The systematic tension in medieval theology: the world has an order and rationality which is guaranteed by God; but God's unfathomability to rational inquiry becomes an ever more central theme.

Cusa's thought intensifies the tendency towards divine transcendence while also creating a path for man and the world to be seen as moving towards transcendence. He rejects, as does Nominalism, the Aristotelean binding of concept to originating object, seeing concepts as having an independent existence, but in addition he sees the human agent as having a creative role in shaping the order of concepts to understand reality. He rejects Aristotelean distinctions between orders of objects with different degrees of intelligibility.

Cusa's quest to save the Middle Ages fails, and must fail -- this necessity is the key point to be explicated.

Background to Cusa's thought: close relation of emphasis on divine transcendence and skepticism about all knowledge.

Medieval concept of transcendence: Neoplatonic and biblical. Neoplatonic transcendence is at least figuratively spatial, as something not part of a finite cosmos; biblical transcendence is temporal, related to a process which will come to an end.

Cusa's 'method' of docta ignorantia [learned ignorance] acknowledges that man does not have transcendent knowledge, but aims to understand the nature of this ignorance. Turns attention to man's process of pursuing knowledge. Construction of limit concepts for knowledge.

Idea of man being made in the image of God is the key that binds Cusa's theology and anthropology. Notions of complicatio and explicatio [folding together and unfolding] perform a similar function in binding his cosmology and theology.

Definition of God as the Not-Other (rather than the absolutely Other) provides a guarantee of stability for the world. Not-otherness as the metaphysical linchpin. (All beings are defined by God to be not other than what they are, and they also follow the divine principle by begetting only what is similar to them.)

Device of coincidentia oppositorum [coincidence of opposites]: use of logical antitheses to find a limit-point where language must be suspended on the path to transcendence -- but this is not just a resignation, but a procedure of testing different constructions tending toward transcendence (like the mathematical model of the circle whose radius is perpetually doubled). The specifically mathematical illustrations are called symbolic investigations (symbolice investigare) by Cusa. These constructions can also be reversed, providing a path from transcendence to immanence.

Function of language as pointing a path to transcendence rather than designating an object.

Knowledge of ignorance as a positive understanding of a predicament rather than mere resignation; not just recognizing that knowledge is incomplete and imprecise at any point, but taking stock of what is unknown as a preliminary step to pursuing further knowledge. Scholasticism (motivated by the eschatological reservation, God's withholding of himself, which required a limit) viewed knowledge as already completed; Cusa's method is a challenge to this static conception. Cusa's opponent Wenck saw the Cusan depiction of the pursuit of knowledge as futile because it had no definite end.

Contrasting deployment of medieval metaphor of the trace or vestige. For Wenck, this is akin to an image; it's relationship is one of analogy to the truth; there is a static proportionality between the trace and the truth (or God). For Cusa, the trace is a signal of the path to be pursued in seeking knowledge.

Cusa rejects medieval distinction of knowledge by concept and knowledge by image, of literal and figurative expression. For him both image and concept are provisional means to orient and direct thought toward a knowledge which is never fully realized.

Scholastic system relied on double-truth -- reason about what could be known with certainty and faith about what was theologically reserved -- and dogmatically asserted their agreement. Cusa fills in the space between these with the notion of conjecture.

501: "Here it turns out that faith and conjecture, fides and coniectura, are functionally equivalent; they provide reason with the presuppositions that it lacks,proceeding from which it can arrive at items of knowledge within the total system. The Cusan saw that the threat to the scholastic architecture posed by the cynicism of the 'double-truth' theory could not be removed from the world by obstinately repeating the apodictic assertion of the necessary agreement between reason and revelation but more likely by making visible a continuum of shadings, applications, projections."

Faith is like conjecture for Cusa in that it is assumed hypothetically in order to be proven by experience.

Function of faith as offering opportunity for reason to establish truth should be seen as a response to the crisis of certainty of the late Middle Ages.

Contrary to some interpretations, Cusa was not an astronomical reformer. His interest in the difficulties of contemporary astronomy was in the service of his principle of imprecision. (Though the necessity of confronting the fact of existing imprecision was a spur to later astronomical reform.) Similarly, Cusa insisted on the rotation of the earth not as a response to any astronomical problem but to vindicate his cosmology, which denied any fundamental difference between the earth and heavenly bodies.

Cusa rejects both the finite world of the Aristotelean-medieval tradition and the arbitrary world of nominalism. The world is a creation adequate to the Creator; it unfolds the original unity in indefinite time and space -- unfolding (explicatio), and hence movement, is essential to the world.

Cusa displaces the earth from the cosmological center to create space for God as the metaphysical center from which everything else emanates. Furthermore, God's relation to the earth is not mediated through other levels of creation as in the Aristotelean-medieval tradition -- for there are no levels of creation for Cusa, God's relation to all of creation is immediate.

For Cusa, man lacks the ability to grasp the entire order of the world directly (in a subject-object relationship), but, because of the imaginative powers he possesses as one made in the image of God, he is able to conceptually reproduce the path of creation.

Cusan notion of transcendence -- not just external, not just seeing the world, from the point of view of the infinite, as vanishing into a single point, but also internal, seeing everything as capable of indefinitely greater proximity, of being indefinitely better understood.

518: "But what happened to man while the cosmos grew into the infinite with its Author? The step in metaphysical speculation by which finitude was suspended had as its consequence not only that from then on the world was, as it were, 'on the point of' itself becoming divine, but also that it became -- instead of a realm of experience capable of completion and thought to have been largely completed -- a field of data that are in principle always surpassable, an inexhaustible store of objects of knowledge."

Cusa's theology has God creating the world without reservation -- i.e., having no special place and provision for man. Man's dignity comes not from his central location in the world, or of it having a teleology directed at him, but in his capacity to create the world again in thought.

Tension in medieval thought between uniqueness of the individual and creation as expression of finite set of forms -- brought into the open if not resolved by Cusa.

Cusa fails to resolve medieval tension between (Scholastic) rationalism and (Nominalist) voluntarism. Early Cusa of Docta ignorantia saw God creating a world that was as great as possible. Later Cusa retreats to voluntarism -- what is created is no better than any other possibility. Cusa still tries to resolve the tension in De possest by arguing that possibility is much part of the original creation as actuality -- but this doesn't reduce the apparent arbitrariness of actuality for man.

Providence seen as God's unfolding (explicatio) of all possibilities, bringing unrealized possibilities into equal status with realized ones, doesn't confer on the world greater reliability or intelligibility (as providence had originally been intended to do). Humanity as the unfolding of infinite different possibilities for man does not confer on any individual the dignity of having been necessary.

Individuality is secured for Cusa (and similarly for Pico della Mirandola) by man's freedom, specifically his freedom to orient and shape himself.

Knowing as projective rather than receptive. Knowing is not reflecting each object in the world into its appropriate concept. As God's creation of the world is a systematic unfolding of possibilities, knowing is constructing a system of conjectures that in effect recreates the world in thought. It is man's ability to construct a potentially limitless system of thought parallel to the world system that makes him possess the character of being in the image of God.

528: "The isolation of man's quasi-divinity was a detachment of the self-comparison to God from its foundation in the relation of image to original, a reverse translation from the quality of a distinct substance into marks of accomplishment. The adoption of ancient formulas could not be the motive operating in this process because divinity for the ancient world meant primarily not at all omnipotence and omniscience but rather immortality and self-sufficiency, in other words, a syndrome of characteristics that does not manifest itself in actions."

Medieval thought is faced with a burden of contingency in understanding why any particular object in the world should exist. For Cusa, the system of thought that man creates still needs to reflect the system that God created and not any other system, so this really doesn't overcome the burden of contingency, but transfers it to the original ground from which the system is unfolded.

Man as creator -- defining feature. Man's creativity has its highest and characteristic form when the creation is an invention of man's mind rather than the imitation of a model -- language, syllogism, invention of games, geometry (although Cusa sometimes sees this as a lesser, imitative, form of creation).

Man's autonomy -- metaphor of a picture that looks at each of its observers individually -- corresponds to model of world with no center, no privileged location -- Cusa launches from this metaphor into a vision of relationship between God and man -- that God liberates man to follow his own path. Contrast with both Nominalism, which saw man as having no freedom to secure salvation, and the Stoicizing withdrawal from question of salvation and assertion of autonomous control of nature. Attempt to give autonomy a theonomic origin.

Cusa's Christology makes the Incarnation a necessary consequence of the Creation -- creation cannot reach its maximum perfection without the realization of the maximum perfection of human nature -- and this is possible only through God's self-restriction in the Incarnation of Christ.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 4, "The Race to the Base"

Three sources of radicalization in the Congressional Republican caucus: replacement of Southern Democrats, replacement of Republicans by more conservative Republicans, tendency for Republican members of Congress to grow more conservative the longer they are in office.

Party leaders have actively sought to promote policies that satisfy the conservative base, and they have organized the led and relied on the base to weed out or bring into line Republican politicians who are too moderate.

Increasing political influence of the wealthy. Turnout becoming more heavily tilted to the most well off. Money is becoming a much more important factor in political races as campaigns become more expensive, and this, of course, is an even bigger boost to the influence of the wealthy. Trade unions and civic groups once provided an organizational counterweight for the less well-off, but they have largely decayed.

Congressional and Senatorial seats have increasingly become safe for one party or the other -- most often, Republicans. Some of this is due to historical trends in party affiliation (like the movement of the South to Republicans). But on the district level, a great deal of it is the result of partisan redistricting. This means that Republican incumbents generally have more to fear from primary challenges than general elections opponents.

Activist groups representing base constituencies within the GOP coalition increasingly drive turnout. They also are playing a larger role in recruiting and vetting candidates.

Political parties are actually becoming a more important factor in candidate success, largely because they have become a centralized source of money. Money from Republican Party leaders' PACs are an especially important factor in driving primary and general election success of right-wing candidates.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part 4, Chapter 1, "The Epochs of the Concept of an Epoch"

We begin with an inquiry into the change in the use of the term "epoch" in Goethe's lifetime -- a change from signifying an event to signifying a period of time. This philological exercise leads into something like a dialectic of historical reason. Periodization has important functions in historical thinking. It captures real differences in historical context and thus inoculates against anachronisms that would issue from the neglect of these qualitative differences. It also responds to a need to see history as something responsive to individual intervention. But historical research dissolves any particular boundary chosen to differentiate epochs. It finds continuities or precedents for any any epochal event or figure.

Thus it is with the epochal transition from the middle ages to the modern ages. Historicism blurred the transition and pushed it back in time with ever accumulating discoveries of new debts and antecedents.

Restatement of Blumenberg's conception of epochal transition as a reoccupation of positions, riffing from Kant's first analogy of experience. Changes of epoch are only possible to experience or understand at all because something -- namely, a frame of systematic requirements -- stays in place across the divide.

466: "Here we are not dealing with the classical constants of philosophical anthropology, still less with the 'eternal truths' of metaphysics. The term 'substance' was to be avoided in this context because every type of historical substantialism such as is involved in, for instance, the theorem of secularization -- relates, precisely, to the contents, which are shown in the process of 'reoccupation' to be incapable of this very permanence. It is enough that the reference frame conditions have greater inertia for consciousness than do the contents associated with them, that is, that the questions are relatively constant in comparison to the answers."

466-467: "During the phases in which the function of this frame of reference is latent -- in the periods, that is, that we assign to the epochs as their 'classic' formations -- we must expect, above all, gains by extension and losses by shrinkage; in the new reorganization, certain questions are no longer posed, and the answers that were once provided for them have the appearance of pure dogma, of fanciful redundancy."

The epochal transition from middle ages to modernity didn't occur at a single point in time, but there was a threshold which can be discerned by examining two figures on opposite sides of it: Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno.

470: "[Nicholas of Cusa and Bruno] can only be brought into confrontation to the extent that they allow us to recognize the congruent position frames for their reality, to the extent that they pose homologous questions to which their answers, in spite of their mutual opposition, still relate. Only this differential analysis makes visible what it is that separates the positions on either side of the epochal threshold; it discloses what must have happened in order to force their incompatibility."

The self-understanding of the modern age as a new foundation created by an act of will creates a demand for a single event or figure which marks the transition from the middle ages. But this cannot be provided, because they were intermeshed; they, so to speak, cohabited for some time.

In any case, the effort to find a point that represents a sharp break between a fully rational present age and a not fully rational predecessor creates a tension in present's self-conception: in making reason contingent, it brings into question whether modernity, too, might be found wanting in rationality. (This seems like an issue to me whether or not the break is sharp.) There is reassurance, however, in that modern epochal system is more resilient than its medieval predecessor. The strength of the medieval system was that it did not rely on confirmation from the life-world. But this in its turn increased the pressure on its internal coherence. The strength of the modern system is its unceasing drive for confirmation from the life-world, and the flexibility which result form this orientation. The corresponding weakness is the lack of clarity in what the totality of the system amounts to, and the uncertainty about whether it was susceptible to alteration by deliberate action.

Discusses the 'seriousness that is always new' as a marker of epochal thresholds (mythical to classical, classical to medieval, and medieval to modern). This brings us to Nicholas of Cusa, whose thought is marked by a free and easy play with the medieval system, although also a concern for its decline. (I think Blumenberg is suggesting that this really marks Nicholas as a pre-epochal figure). This in turn leads into consideration of the significance of the interest in Nicholas as a candidate for the epochal figure of modernity. Blumenberg attributes this interest to a concern for the perceived destructive consequences of modernity, and the sense that this destructiveness issues from an illegitimately radical break with what came before it. The consequent desire to retrieve the legitimacy of the modern age by finding a liminal figure who does not share the radical consciousness of the traditional epochal figures finds a congenial candidate in Nicholas.

Blumenberg rejects the idea of there being an epochal figure or event at all.

477: "It is true that we must proceed from the assumption that man makes history -- who else should make it for him? -- but what we can discover in history is not identical with what has been 'made' to occur at any given time. For in relation to actions that could have 'made history' -- whether of the discredited 'great men' or, more recently, of the masses that are defined by their economic conditions -- the element of interference always supervenes. In the realm of ideas, this has brought historians to the resigned confirmation of the 'misunderstandings' that dominate histories of the reception of ideas and that can occasionally be described as 'fruitful.' The principle that man makes history certainly does not mean that was is made depends solely on the intentions and the percepts as a result of which and according to which it was produced."

(Isn't Marx more succinct? "Men make history, but they do not make it just as they please.")

478: "Man does indeed make history, but he does not make epochs. This is a deduction not from the admirable principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but more nearly from the reverse, that it is less than them; that is to say, it is not the equivalent of action. Action takes place within the horizon of the historically possible, but its effect is not the arbitrarily, accidentally, 'totally other,' either. The effect also occurs in a context of the reciprocal interaction of synchronicity and nonsynchronicity, of integrative and destructive interdependence. An epoch is the sum total of all the interferences between actions and what they 'make.'"

Epochal threshold discerned by 'interpolating' between Nicholas of Cusa and Giordano Bruno.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 3, "New Rules for Radicals"

Six rules that explain how Republicans make major changes in public policy with very small majorities despite widepsread public opposition.

1. Control the agenda.
Control of both houses of Congress means being able to decide which measures are even considered. This can mean either pushing legislation which doesn't have broad public backing at all (Social Security privatization) or preventing more popular alternatives or amendments from being considered (censure vs. impeachment for Clinton, many amendments to the bankruptcy bill, conservation vs. energy company subsidies).

2. Control the content of legislation.
The example used is Medicare Plan B (prescription drug coverage), in which a more popular Senate plan was frozen out of a final vote by stacking the reconciliation committee. It's debatable how different this is from the first rule.

3. Make changes surreptitiously.
Many goals can be achieved either in legislation that draws little attention or by even less conspicuous executive orders. Examples: workplace safety deregulation (executive action and little noticed Congressional action), removing overtime pay protections (executive action with Congressional response squelched by agenda control), and environmental deregulation (executive action).

4. Stall needed changes or reauthorizations.
Preventing renewal of assault weapons ban. Stonewalling an update of the minimum wage. Stifling expansion of public health care initiatives.

5. "Starve the beast:" tax cuts now to force spending cuts later

6. Tilt the playing field -- change the rules of political competition to favor Republicans.
Mid-term redistricting. Threats to nullify Senate filibuster by parliamentary procedure.

These methods don't necessarily work with issues that are highly publicized or when opposition is well-organized.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father

The book is framed as a search for authenticity and a sense of belonging. Perhaps surprisingly, the intellectual aspect of this gets little attention. I have no real sense of what he studied, or what he took from that. His search is in large part a coming to terms with what it means to be black in America. But it is foremost seeking an understanding of what his family, and particularly his father and his father's side of the family, mean for him.

Obama's brothers and sisters

from his mother and her Indonesian second husband Lolo: Maya

from his father and his Kenyan first wife Kezia: Roy (Abongo), Auma, Abo, Bernard

from his father and his American third wife Ruth: Mark, David (who died in motorcycle accident)

from his father and a girlfriend: George

Auma - key link to Obama's family in Kenya and a remarkable story of achievement in her own right, excelling enough as a student in Kenya to go on to study lingiuistics in Germany

Lolo Soetero - tragic figure, a man whose idealism is squeezed out of him by the post-Suharto crackdown on intellectuals trained abroad

Ruth - the one unsympathetic figure from the family

Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father

433: "I asked her why she shought black Americans were prone to disappointment when they visited Africa. She shook her head and smiled. 'Because they come here looking for the authentic,' she said. 'That is bound to disappoint a person. Look at this meal we are eating. Many people will tell you that the Luo are a fish-eating people. But that was not true for all Luo. Only those who lived by the lake. And even for those Luo, it was not always true. Before they settled around the lake, they were pastoralists, like the Masai. Now, if you and your sister behave yourself and eat a proper share of this food, I will offer you tea. Kenyans are very boastful about the quality of their tea, you notice. But of course we got this habit from the English. Our ancestors did not drink such a thing. Then there's the spices we used to cook this fish. They originally came from India, or Indonesia. So even in this simple mealyou will find it very difficult to be authentic -- although the meal is certainly African.'

Rukia rolled a ball of ugali in her hand and dipped it into her stew. 'You can hardly blame black Americans, of course, for wanting an unblemished past. After the cruelties they've suffered -- still suffer, from what I read in the newspapers. They're not unique in this desire. The European wants the same thing. The Germans, The English ... they all claim Athens and Rome as their own, when, in fact, their ancestors helped destroy classical culture. But that happened so long ago, so their task is easier."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 2, "Partying with the 'People's Money'"

The American public did not favor the Bush tax cuts over increased social spending or even deficit reduction. Nor did Americans favor the skewed distribution of those tax cuts over more egalitarian alternatives. The Republicans were aware that they were pursuing a policy without public support. So they disguised the size of the cuts with phase-ins (especially at the top end) and sunsets. They also left the alternative minimum tax in place to give them more apparent room for cuts: they realized that its increasing bite on the middle class would compel a fix, but by that time the cuts would already be in place. The sunsets were also designed to create an artificial crisis of sudden, apparent tax increases several years later; the idea is that this will create pressure to make the cuts permanent at that time.

They also stretched legislative norms to maneuver the cuts through Congress. They used their control of the agenda in the House to evade consideration of budgetary alternatives and consequences. And they passed the cuts through the budget reconciliation process to circumvent a Senate filibuster.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 11, "The Integration into Anthropology: Feuerbach and Freud"

With the triumph of theoretical curiosity, Blumenberg sees its field of objects expanding from nature to other realms.

The rise of a species of popular curiosity is introduced through anecdotes of the tribulations of Alexander von Humboldt.

Feuerbach -- fundamental conception is "knowledge drive" -- temporal rather than spatial conception of the unknown which man's curiosity seeks to uncover -- anticipation. Hyperbolic and exaggerated formulations serve the function of making knowledge possible. Theology as a hyperbolic anthropology. Immortality as displacement of the gaining of knowledge within history to a quasi-spatial state of perfection in which no further knowledge remains to be achieved.

Immortality as conceived of by the Enlightenment and German Classicism seeks to bridge the gap between what will be known by mankind and what can be known by an individual man. Feuerbach insists on retaining consciousness of the gap. For Feuerbach, individuals are only agents in the progress of knowledge, not the loci of its completion. Individuals sense the gap between what they know and what can be known and feel a drive to close it, even though this cannot be completely achieved.

For Feuerbach, man's knowledge drive is not concerned with things beyond human comprehension, it is concerned with what man can know but doesn't yet know.

Feuerbach uses story of Copernicus' desire to actually see Mercury to illustrate function of reason and knowledge as an anticipation of feeling and sense rather than as a completion of them.

Need as correlate of action and fulfillment for Feuerbach. Knowledge drive seeks to possess its object, at least imaginatively -- this is a specific form of the happiness drive, which seeks power and ownership. Happiness drive as the "drive of drives."

Freud - curiosity as redirection of fundamental libidinal impulse -- in example of Leonardo, both a sublimation and an obsessive regression from primary sublimation (of libido into artistic creation).

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Chapter 1, "Off Center"

There is greater political polarization almost entirely because the Republican Party has become more extreme at all levels: the base of party activists, the rank and file congressional membership, the presidency, and the top political bosses and consultants. There has not been a corresponding trend among Democratic Party activists and members of Congress. Democratic activists have not become particularly more liberal, and Democratic members of Congress only slightly so.

Nor is there a corresponding trend among the public at large. Polling shows that the public has grown neither more polarized nor more conservative. Furthermore, the polling data probably understates the gap between the increasingly radical Republican party and the electorate. This is because of the somewhat narrow range of issues polled and because of the ability of focused Republican political campaigns to shape opinion on a few issues.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: Introduction

Republicans have won recent elections by very narrow margins. Public opinion is evenly divided. Nevertheless, Republicans have succeeded in enacting an ideologically extreme agenda.

Traditional view is that the large proportion of politically moderate voters would weed out political extremists. But Republicans no longer fear the median voter, because voters are increasingly in the dark about the content of policies. Media coverage focuses on personalities, and the Republican Party controls the legislative agenda and designs its policies with the objective of concealing their real effect on the public. The policies are also designed to shape and restrict future policy choices by stealth. (The authors call these twin innovations "backlash insurance.") The winnowing of political hopefuls is increasingly in the hands of a small minority of rich contributors and highly organized ideological groups. Along with the rise of safe seats, this makes intraparty competition the main concern of many Republicans, thus driving them to more extremist politics. The Republican Party leadership has also successfully centralized authority within the party.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Part III, Chapter 10, "Curiosity and the Claim to Happiness:Voltaire to Kant"

Descartes' objectivization of theoretical curiosity, turning it into an impersonal process, severs the link between the quest for knowledge and individual happiness. The search for knowledge takes on, for the individual (as Nietzsche was later to insist), the character of renunciation. Descartes still saw the process of inquiry itself as discovering the conditions for human happiness in the near future, since he envisioned the totality of knowledge as finite. But the relation becomes more problematic when, as in Voltaire, possible knowledge is taken to be unlimited: then knowledge can be seen as never providing a complete material basis for happiness, which in any case is primarily a matter of correct behavior rather than total knowledge.

Maupertuis was the exponent of an organized and aggressive curiosity. He conceived and organized research projects of vast scope. He envisioned curiosity driving not just the collecting and recording of unusual things and events, but also the creation of them. He also proselytized against limits to investigations, even urging experiments on human beings.

Maupertuis' cosmology, like Leibniz's, views the world as a continuum of beings. But for Maupertuis this order has been destroyed by losses and extinctions. Maupertuis theory of curiosity follows from this. If the continuum of beings still existed and was accessible, then knowledge of the nature of reality would be immediate and observational. Man's insatiable curiosity is the consequence of this lack of immediate accessibility of the order of beings (and also of the inaccessibility of all things in time because of man's finite existence).

For Rousseau, the conflict that Voltaire sees between man's happiness and his unlimited pretensions to knowledge simply does not exist in man's original state. He depicts a natural condition that is not afflicted by curiosity, where consciousness is so immediate that the level of knowledge required for curiosity does not exist. There is a mystery here about what could disturb this equilibrium and begin the spiral of curiosity and knowledge. In any case, it is a picture that lacks critical force because Rousseau acknowledges that the process of curiosity, once set in motion, is irreversible.

Rousseau's pragmatic view of truth -- taking off from Democritus' image of truth having taken up hiding in a well -- there are many paths to error, so the pursuit of truth is more likely to fail than succeed, and it is likely that the truth would not be well used in any case.

Hermann Reimarius gives positive value to truth's lack of perspicuousness. He holds that this encourages effort and work to make discovery, which is better for man's character. Similar s Hume, who sees the exertion involved in the pursuit of truth as productive of pleasure in its own right, more than any result from the pursuit.

Lessing, following this path, holds out ceaseless striving for truth rather than contemplation as the ideal of human fulfillment. Curiosity (along with ambition) is the stimulus for this striving, and thus premature revelation of truth to others, which stunts their curiosity, is an actual hindrance to fulfillment.

Lichtenberg sees man as adapted to asking and pursuing causal knowledge of nature, but unable to grasp ultimate nature either of the external world or himself. The value of the pursuit of knowledge lies in the discovery of this boundary and the use of this discovery to orient understanding to the things over which man can actually have power.

Kant takes the boundary or limit of reason as itself the pre-eminent object of reason. The appetite of reason takes it beyond the limit of what it is capable of knowing (this is 'passive,' which is to say uncritical, reason). Enlightenment consists in the self-imposition on reason of limits to its aspirations, to exclude objects that are outside its grasp. At the onset of his critical phase, Kant is optimistic about a fairly rapid triumph of public enlightenment. He comes to see this expectation as premature, and increasingly accommodates himself to a public regulation of reason.

Kant demolishes the Augustinean dichotomy between self-knowledge and theoretical curiosity. He sets the understanding of the bounds and conditions of human knowledge itself as the object of theoretical curiosity.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 9, "Justifications of Curiosity as Preparation for the Enlightenment"

Modernity's self-portrayal as an absolute new beginning does not hold up. But a historicism which sees only continuity from the Middle Ages to modernity does not do justice to the epochal change between them, either. The relationship between them must be understood as dialectical -- Modernity responds to questions, conditions, restrictions of the medieval era.

379: "The insight that all logic, both historically and systematically, is based on structures of dialogue has not yet been brought to bear in the construction of historical categories. If the modern age was not the monologue, beginning at point zero, of the absolute subject -- as it pictures itself -- but rather the system of efforts to answer in a new context questions that were posed to man in the Middle Ages, then this would entail new standards for interpreting what does in fact function as an answer to a question but does not represent itself as such an answer and may even conceal the fact that that is what it is. Every occurrence [Ereignis], in the widest sense of the term, is characterized by 'correspondence'; it responds to a question, a challenge, a discomfort; it bridges over an inconsistency, relaxes a tension, or occupies a vacant position."

Blumenberg holds up Nietzsche for having this kind of historical understanding, but isn't something due here to Hegel, as well?

Development of Faust figure in literature represents the assertion of theoretical curiosity -- his curiosity is increasing portrayed positively.

Giordano Bruno consciously frames pursuit of human cognitive drive as a transgression of and liberation from limits set by the Aristotelian system.

Francis Bacon -- legalistic depiction of relationship between man's cognitive ambitions and nature. Man has a right to knowledge which needs to be recovered. This right has been stymied because of man's indolence and obedience to convention. (Note that this account only makes sense when knowledge is viewed not as contemplation but as a product of manipulation, of forcing nature to revel its secrets through experiment.) Man had power over nature in state of paradise; it was moral knowledge which was reserved for God and in grasping for which man lost everything. But man retains the right to control over nature, and science will return that control to him. Traditional conception of theory is really an idle curiosity, a theoretical lassitude which is prematurely satisfied with incomplete knowledge that cannot yet support its function of restoring man's power over nature. In contrast to contemplation, the knowledge sought cannot be predefined; it is revealed through accident, and the point is to organize the pursuit of accident systematically.

Mathematical science of nature, as developed by Kepler and Galileo, has no need of vindication of man's right to knowledge of nature. It is not mediated by God at all, not even in being allowed to be revealed; to the extent that nature is known mathematically, it is known with the same certainty and in the same way that god knows it.

Galileo distinguishes the intensity and extent of knowledge, and uses this for defense from theological criticism. The acquisition and continuous expansion of knowledge actually allows man to understand that there always remains an infinitude of truth which is unknown, and so illustrates his finitude. (I think this reprises Nicolas of Cusa's argument.)

Although Blumenberg sees in Galileo the beginning of the detachment of curiosity from individual psychology and its transformation into an impersonal process, he acknowledges Galileo still in some sense inhabited the conventional role of the curious man. He presented his findings in a notably digressive style, with many findings happened upon in an accidental manner and not well integrated into a systematic account. Descartes criticizes Galileo for this lack of systematic approach -- the first truly modern critique of curiosity.

Jakob Brucker -- historiographer of origins of Greek philosophy -- sees it as reaction to dogmatic philosophical tradition inherited from Eastern civilizations -- a reaction that was possible because the political freedom of the Greek states permitted free play to curiosity.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy fo the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 8, "Interest in Invisible Things within the World"

Copernicus displaces the explanation for apparent movement of heavenly bodies. He attributed the movement in part (and completely, in the case of the distant stars) to the rotation of the earth itself. This eliminated the need for positing a sphere of fixed stars, but Copernicus himself did not dispense with the heavenly spheres and a finite world. Nor did he anticipate astronomical phenomena that were not visible to the naked eye but which would be revealed with mechanical assistance.

Thomas Digges is the first to set aside the system of heavenly spheres, and draws the implication that the world is not finite, that the stars that we see are just the visible ones among an infinite number, most of which are too far away to see. Identifies the space beyond vision with the realm reserved solely for God.

371: "Theology destroys itself by staking its claim on the finality of a consciousness of finitude. By emphasizing the inconsiderateness and relentlessness of absolute power with respect to man, it makes it impossible for the progress of theory to be neutral, for technical accomplishment to be a matter of indifference, in this historical zone. By laying claims to supposed boundaries and impossibilities, theology exposes itself fatally, as it had done and was to do with the proof of God's existence and with theodicy."

Galileo's discovery of new phenomena with the telescope demolishes the prejudice that everything in the world has already been given to unaided sight. It also brings one of the highest form of human activity -- contemplation of the heavens -- under the sway of technical knowledge of machinery. In so doing, it subverts the order of fixed and finite human knowledge; it leads to an expectation of further knowledge as the result of technical improvements; it historicizes astronomy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 7, "Preludes to a Future Overstepping of Limits"

Two preconditions for rehabilitation of curiositas (1) removing man's contribution to his own salvation (2) rescinding the world's providential or even perspicuously intelligible character.

These validated approach which acted as if God were dead.

346: "The modern era began, not indeed as the epoch of the death of God, but as the epoch of the hidden God, the deus abscondidas -- and a hidden God is pragmatically as good as dead. The nominalist theology induces a human relation to the world whose implicit content could have been formulated in the postulate that man had to behave as though God were dead. This induces a restless taking stock of the world, which can be designated as the motive power of the age of science."

Made possible new view of science -- not trying to comprehend the world ideally and exactly, but only hypothetically and provisionally.

Nominalism developed many quantitative approaches to study of nature, but refrained from measuring the quantities used -- both from the lingering fear of transgressing on the exact numerical knowledge reserved for God and the prejudice that approximate measures were unworthy of science.

Nicole de Oresme's argument for incommensurability of movement's of heavens means that there is no prospect of a perfect alignment, and from this and the Aristotelean premise of symmetry of beginning and end of time, infers that there can be no end.

352: "The pretension to exactitude conjured up visions of a collision with the theological index of the impossible and gave any application of the speculative calculations the character of curiositas; renunciation of exactitude, which could have stylized and justified itself as humilitas [humility], presupposed a break with the generally accepted ideal of science. From this point of view, what still had to happen between the fourteenth and the seventeenth centuries in order to lay the foundation for the formation of the modern age ... does not look like an intensification, or even an exaggeration, of the supposedly 'modest' cognitive pretensions of the Middle Ages -- as it has been readily perceived, to the detriment of the integrity of the modern idea of science. Rather it looks like a very decisive renunciation, a resignation -- which, while it was not skeptical, was still directed at the center of what had gone before -- from continuing to measure oneself (in one's theoretical relation to nature) against the norm of knowing the Creation from the angle of vision and with the categories of the Creator."

Basic medieval conflict: unlimited pretensions of theoretical drive versus theological insistence on human finitude. Late medieval Pietism found a resolution in reacting against theoretical inquiry.

Nicolas of Cusa sought a different resolution. He views knowledge about every particular thing as capable of being corrected and improved upon without end -- he adds a dimension of intensification to knowledge. Wisdom is the recognition that knowledge is not complete, that it could be made more perfect. In this context, Nicolas of Cusa assesses the limitless quest for knowledge as a positive quality, because it is only in striving for knowledge that the lack of full knowledge is revealed. This triggers self reflection in the knowledge seeking subject.

For Cusa, Applying mathematics to nature, in particular by measurement, particularly brings out the incompleteness of knowledge of the world. Mathematics is where human knowledge is most secure because it is produced by man himself. Knowledge not as what is pregiven, but what is constructed and measured. That the model or measurement of physical phenomena, like the heavens, is not perfect is to be expected; error in knowledge thus has a necessary and positive quality, as the element which we ceaselessly strive to reduce without eliminating.

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 6, "Difficulties Regarding the 'Natural' Status of the Appetite for Knowledge ...

Application of medieval liberal arts (particularly dialectic) to theology instigated a reaction asserting the inadequacy of these theoretical means as a foundation for knowledge. This reaction (exemplified by Peter Damian) viewed the lawfulness of the world as a contingent circumstance, as the regularity resulting from obedience to an order given by God which can be rescinded at any time.
For the first time, curiositas is attacked because it is the means of a pretension to rational human self-assertion.
The reception of Aristotle, and especially the first sentence of the Metaphysics, by Scholasticism creates tension. The naturalness of the creative drive is affirmed. (Thomas sees that the legitimacy of the drive for knowledge is required to validate the dictum from the epistle to the Romans that all men know God.) It is no longer the case, however, as with Aristotle, that the subjective intellect is a match for the world -- the latter is now seen as infinite and the former as finite (for Thomas, this finitude results from the Fall). Thomas resolves the tension by bringing theoretical inquiry into the scheme of Aristotelian ethics. He introduces the virtue of studiousness (studiositas) as the mean between ceaseless inquiry and resignation (both of which are seen as defects of curiositas - the latter assumes an attitude of calm which is appropriate only to state of salvation). So knowledge itself cannot be bad, but effort expended for it can be excessive.
Correction of Augustinean critique of curiositas -- the issue is not its failure to recognize the conditions of inquiry in God, but in failure to trace objects of inquiry to God -- i.e., in not carrying through inquiry to its completion.

336: "The resignation that is expressed in the idea of acedia with respect to the absolute object that had been wooed for centuries -- the theoretical/metaphysical discouragement with respect to the God Who withdraws in His sovereign arbitrariness as deus abscondidas [hidden God] -- will determine the ending of the middle ages and the revaluation of theoretical curiosity that was essential to the change of epoch. The vice of disregarding the preliminary character of this life was to be replaced by the theoretical technical form of existence, the only one left to him. From melancholy over the unreachability of the transcendent reservations of the Deity there will emerge the determined competition of the immanent idea of science, to which the infinity of nature discloses itself as the inexhaustible field of theoretical application and raises itself to the equivalent of the transcendent infinity of the Deity Himself, which, as the idea of salvation, has become problematical."

Orthodox reception of Aristotle by Scholasticism (exemplified by Siger of Brabant) admitted no conflict between the world and the human cognitive drive, because it saw truth about the world as finite.

ambiguous status of Odysseus in Dante's Inferno
- punished for deceit, not curiosity
- his fate (death in quest for new land beyond known world) seems made to fit his curiosity
- Dante contrasts his own quest to see new things with Odysseus' -- Dante's is aimed at salvation and sanctioned by God
- Dante describes the first sin of Adam as transgressing the sign, i.e., the limit of permitted knowledge -- sin implicitly shared by Odysseus
- Odysseus is only figure in Inferno who does not accuse or condemn himself

Petrarch turns discovery of new vista -- Mont Ventoux -- into conversion narrative. Seeks new knowledge, and then issues retraction from quest. Balances between epochs.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 5, "Curiosity is Enrolled in the Catalog of the Vices"

Augustine's turning away from Manichaean Gnosticism depends on philosophical critique of Gnosticism's astronomical doctrines, but Augustine does not want to validate philosophy per se. Sees its predictive successes (e.g., in astronomy) as its core danger, because it leads man to think that this knowledge is derived from himself rather than conditioned on man's origin in God. Curiositas as pursuit of knowledge which does not reflect on the conditions of its own possibility.

Augustinean distinction of use and enjoyment of the world: use of the world and objects in it for the end of salvation is permissible, but enjoyment is dangerous. Enjoyment should be directed toward God alone. Curiositas takes man's cognitive abilities themselves as an object of enjoyment. This is facilitated by a world in which the objects of knowledge are in fact at least in part remote or hidden from man, so that the process of knowing them comes with a greater feeling of accomplishment. In the extreme case, even God is viewed as an object of knowledge, and is thus used for enjoyment of man's cognitive capabilities.

For Augustine, remote or obscure things which cannot be of use and cannot increase man's self-knowledge are not a proper object of attention. Man's cognitive drive, which leads to interest in such things, is part of his fallen nature.

Memoria is antithesis of curiositas for Augustine. Follows pattern of Gnosticism here: curiositas is forgetting oneself and losing oneself in the world, memoria is true knowing in the sense of recollecting one's origin.

Curiositas as a 'waste of time' -- an implicit denial of man's finitude, as if an individual had time to come to know everything.

Miracles create a predicament for Augustine. Ancient presupposition is for an orderly cosmos; miracles violate this. On one hand, Augustine contests this by simply expanding concept of cosmos -- there is order to nature that we do not see enough to be familiar with; if we grasped this order then miracles would be understood correctly as natural events. But in implying a deeper order, Augustine risks inciting curiositas in pursuit of it and also suggesting that God can be limited by it. So Augustine goes beyond this, claims that miracles are consistent with God's ability to take arbitrary and unpredictable action. Decisive for development of medieval theology and thus modern thought.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part 3, Chapter 4, "Preparations for a Conversion and Models for the Verdict of the 'Trial'"

Cicero introduces a restriction on theoretical activity by balancing it against other needs and duties. Pursuit of knowledge is natural to humans, but it must not be allowed to displace more urgent practical and political matters in the 'economy' of human activity. (This brings it within the things governed by an Aristotelean mean -- there is such a thing as too much).
Portrays life of theory as something that can be largely deferred to an afterlife (which is possible because, contra Plato, it is not seen as a prerequisite of moral and political activity).
Restriction is fundamentally one of time rather than subject matter, though there are aspects of knowledge of the world which Cicero holds to be obscure. Such subjects should be avoided because they tend to become a burdensome care. Further reassurance for this renunciation of some theoretical activity: Cicero distinguishes use of nature from knowledge of it; may have the former even without the latter.

Image of Odysseus and sirens for Cicero: self-limitation of pursuit of knowledge for sake of duty to country.

Ambrose does not dispute that pursuit of knowledge is most worthy human life, but puts geometry and astronomy off limits for study; holds that these are obscure and would compete with giving absolute priority to seeking salvation

Philo puts attainment of theoretical understanding of the cosmos at the end of a sequence of stages: attempt to know world directly, self-knowledge, knowledge of God, knowledge of world through God
abjures direct approach to knowing the cosmos -- believes it is futile
epistemological principle -- identity of truth and making (verum and factum); God made the world, so true knowledge must come from him. Objects no longer show themselves (as in earlier Greek thought) they are shown by God - voluntarism. Issue with self-knowledge - presupposes some knowledge of the cosmos in order to distinguish one's own nature.

curiositas and memoria in Neoplatonic thought
curiositas - world soul dispersing (and losing) itself in particularity
memoria - world soul recollecting its origin and returning to itself
For Neoplatonism, knowledge of world cannot be an attitude of detachment and repose -- it involves and ensnares the soul in the world.
Gnosticism and Neoplatonism both see salvation as essentially about knowledge, recollection. Knowledge of origin of the world becomes central to theology.

Both Neoplatonism and Gnosticism view copies as having the same reality as originals - ontological indifference - so opens possibility of knowledge (and the world) being infinite .
Christian critics of Gnosticism focus on futility of seeking knowledge that could be infinite -see its unlimited demands as conflicting with pursuit of faith.

295: "Reference to the great figures of human imagination may in each case be intended only as rhetorical ornament, but the validity and richness of interest of such a figure themselves force the author, who seems ready to involve himself with them only in passing, to come forth unintentionally with his concept of man and man's proper form of existence and play it through in a thought experiment."

Odysseus for Clement of Alexandria - like the Gnostics who do not close their ears to Greek knowledge which can be useful in explaining Christianity

Apuleius portrays curiositas as a trait of a kind of character -- one with an immoderate appetite for knowledge, a kind of intellectual busybody. This is a key step in the development of the view of curiositas as a vice. Correlate of the loss of a world seen as an orderly cosmos. Opens up the idea of experience of unlimited possibilities and variations. In this context, curiosity is directed not at a stable structure of reality, but to the strange and peculiar.

Tertullian portrays himself as an advocate of surrender to simple faith. He condemns intellectual pursuits. Yet he himself takes up extensive and subtle disputes with Gnostics. He depicts himself as drawn into these disputes against his will.

300: "Tertullian exhibits a clear awareness of the fact that the historical process stabilizes the system the system of questions once raised and thus exercises a pressure toward answers, which imposes the 'settling' and reoccupation of systematic positions that have become vacant. Thus it is no longer 'human nature' that unfolds its appetite for knowledge in a catalog of pretensions to knowledge that can be gathered from history; rather it is the factual antecedence of schools of dogma that imposes upon what is new a framework of continuity that is just as unfulfillable as it is demanding of fulfillment. Curiosity is the result of the unresisting reception of the inherited system of 'nonnegotiable' questions."

For Tertullian, only truth derived from God worth pursuing. Simple self-evidence of the soul is opposed to the vanity of presumed immediate knowledge of the world; curiosity is the vice of that vanity. Knowledge attained by other means is not so much impossible as illegitimate.

Lactantius portrays truths of world as hidden by God from man, and accessible only through him. God is the inventor of the world as well as the creator, so there is no independent model that can be known.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Michael Oakeshott, "Rationalism in Politics"

Characteristics of rationalist politics: (1) politics of felt needs, of crises (2) certainty, perfection (3) uniformity.

Custom, tradition, and established patterns worth nothing for rationalism.

Two kinds of knowledge - mechanical and practical. Rationalism substitutes the former for the whole. Mechanical can be formalized in rules, practical knowledge must be learned from working contact with a carrier of a tradition. (What about what is learned by doing, irrespective of tutleage by a mentor -- isn't "hands on" knowledge the key part of practical knowledge?)

Rationalism is a pervasive intellectual tendency which also affected politics (and affected it earlier than most fields).

Identifies rationalism with idealistic projects and movements. This seems strange, perhaps because the discussion is made in a vacuum of any context in modern bureaucracies.

22: "Rationalist politics, I have said, is the politics of felt need, the felt need not qualified by a genuine, concrete knowledge of the permanent interests and direction of movement of a society, but interpreted by 'reason' and satisfied according to the technique of an ideology: they are the politics of the book." (This hints at what Oakeshott thinks politics should be.)

Oakeshott sees Rationalist politics as a consequence of the rise of politically inexperienced people and classes to power. He takes Machiavelli's writings as an exemplary case; Oakeshott sees his work as an advice book for the novice ruler. This really makes no sense in light of the longstanding existence of self-governing communes in Renaissance Italy; political experience had long been a fairly widely distributed good.

In general, Oakeshott moves casually from Rationalism as a style of governing to Rationalism as propaganda and a form of political mobilization. This is a significant confusion. Although the ultimate disposition of who rules in a modern state may be in the hands of an ever broader array of people and classes, it is the politicians who rule, not the social classes. Within the political elite, the discontinuities do not seem strong enough to bear the explanatory burden that Oakeshott wishes to put on them. Long before the supposed end of absolute monarchies, ministers ruled as much or more than kings, and there was no hereditary requirement for those ministers. Today, voters choose their rulers from competing parties composed mainly of lawyer-politicians, many of whom come from political dynasties. The political "new man" is neither as recent nor as pervasive as Oakeshott makes out, so this will not do as the explanation for any decline of governing as a kind of traditional craft.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 3, "Skepticism Contains a Residue of Trust in the Cosmos"

Hellenistic philosophy has a therapeutic character. The classical schools of philosophy had failed to deliver undisputed truth, but claimed that possession of truth was necessary for happiness. Hellenistic philosophy represents a drawing back from theoretical pretension, separation of truth from happiness.

For both Epicureans and Pyrrhonian Skeptics, philosophy doesn't provide happiness, but eliminates the impediments to it (especially those created by theory).

Pyrrhonian Skepticism accepted that man has a natural drive for knowledge, and that man's happiness was tied up with it -- but in the seeking of it, not in the fulfillment. Knowledge of particular events in the present may be or become evident to us, but happiness does not depend upon this. The danger lies in trying to see behind what is present, the phenomena, to something more real. An abandonment to the immediacy of life. Man is thus not responsible for his happiness -- even Epicurean ataraxia is rejected as dogmatic -- which Blumenberg claims is bearable (and this is an argument by appea to anthropology) only under the unclaimed assumption of a stable cosmos.

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 2, "The Indifference of Epicurus's Gods"

Epicureanism sees striving for knowledge as disruptive of human happiness. It tries to tame this striving by showing that all possible explanations of natural events are equivalent in their consequences for man -- hence the actual state of affairs can be a matter of indifference.

Negative valuation of curiosity. Views man as having a natural state of happy obliviousness that is shattered by curiosity about the heavens (contrast with Stoic admiration for and taking comfort in the regularity of the the heavens).

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 1, "The Retraction of the Socratic Turning"

Blumenberg tells an admitted just-so story about the development of Presocratic philosophy -- an original harmony of the knowing subject and the world it knows, which philosophy disrupts by pulling truth increasingly apart from appearance

Socrates' turning -- rejects natural philosophy (which is portrayed as futile and endlessly disputatious) for philosophy directed at human self-knowledge

But the Platonic Socrates (at least) brings nature back into his inquiries again. Dogmatic myths are provided to fill in what must be believed about nature in order to shore up investigations of human and political life. In any case, the conflict with the Sophists includes the germ of justification for inquiring into nature. The argument against sophism is that knowledge of human affairs is properly directed not towards any one individual's interest, but to what is good for us as humans, by our nature. But human nature is not really seen as separate from the entire natural order.

Aristotle -- severs the bond between theoretical striving and moral knowledge, defends pure theory against suspicion that it is reaching beyond what is suitable for man, into the divine - the highest goal for man is to become more like the gods by seeking knowlege, and this is possible becasue of the reason which is in us

Stoicism - combines dogmatic assertion of the general principle of world's favorability for man with a number of practices which foster a partial or complete withholding of judgment on specific questions about nature.

The Machiavellian Moment

Pocock presents the Florentine civic humanist as the heirs to Aristotle's conception of the nature of the political human being. The core of the problem was to reconcile this view within a Christian context where "secular fulfillment" was impossible. By virtue of Christian doctrine, there were not many ways to define the secular in a morally Christian way. The Machiavellian moment describes that basic tension between the pagan and Christian worldviews as well as the viability of the republic itself. The moment is longer than the moment. Its legacy is long because it plays a part in the development of modern political thought from Medieval modes of thought. Secular political self-consciousness poses problems in historical awareness. These thinkers legacy include "balanced government, dynamic virtue and the role of arms and property in shaping the civic personality."

The Machiavellian Moment

Republicanism is a form of historicism since it deals with sequence of events, events themselves and political interactive relationships. Basic conflict is explaining human sequences. Medieval thought avoided it by not creating a historicism. Rationality dealt with universals. Historicism itself was questionable because it by necessity was about time and contingency which were inherently not rational. With the Greeks, history as a philosophy was not solved or seen as a problem. Aristotle's cyclic view of time based on the perfect sphere served as a metaphor for time in human interactions. It took other modes of thought superseding the Christian one to develop an historical frame of reference for the temporal or human. Christianity discarded the cyclical view because of the obvious constraints it imposed on a God outside and superior to time. Philosophy itself was inadequate to reconcile universals within a temperal context. Political society is time bound, contigent and particular. New modes of thought developed outside of philosphy to deal with this fact. Republicanism revealed the tension by offering universal values for the attainment of human perfection within a politcal context that was time bound. The tension of universal values within an imperfect and changable temporal mode of existence is the heart of the matter.

The goal--a philosophy of history--republicanism is a philosophy of history.

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III ("The 'Trial' of Theoretical Curiosity"), Introduction

inescapablility of science in contemporary world -- questioning the value or consequences of science itself yields a scientific discourse -- moreover, science is necessary for life, in the sense that it has created conditions in which most humans alive today could not continue to live without it

232: "Since ancient times, what theory was supposed to do was not to make life possible but to make it happy."

232-233: "The 'theoretial attitude' may be a constant in European history since the awakening of the Ionians' interest in nature; but this attitude could take on the explicitness of insistence on the will and the right to intellectual curiosity only after it had been confronted with opposition and had had to compete with other norms of attitude and fulfillment in life."

'naive' curiosity - curiosity as an anthropological constant

'reflected' curiosity - curiosity which takes the orientation and direction of inquiry itself as its object

Diderot's Encyclopedia as a project of reflected curiosity, an attempt to understand what is known and direct inquiry on that basis

The encyclopedic ambition itself exposes a key modern predicament: individuals can no longer even hope to orient themselves with respect to the totality of knowledge. The subject which grasps what is known is now a collective or an institution. Under these conditions, it becomes impossible to sustain the ancient identity of complete knowledge and happiness.

Francis Bacon reformulates relation between knowledge and happiness - happiness is the result of humanity collectively knowing enough to take control of nature

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part II, Chapter 5

Separation of truth from theoretical effectiveness corresponds to the decline of anthropocentric teleology.

Copernicus - a regression from the trend who illustrates this correspondence in reverse. He objected to astronomy that was constructed inelegantly with the aim of being good enough for practical use. He objected that it lacked the clarity and precision it should have in order to describe God's design.

Descartes - Science built through hypothetical construction is a different path than truth. Point of Descartes' materialist cosmogony is to illustrate that the world is open to human action and change. World is never complete, it has no end.

Precritical Kant - world is always changing, tending toward perfection.

Critical kant - teleology exists only in human action; 'unfinished' world precondition of human action.

Hobbes as illustration of dissolving political order to ints natural elementsin order to show how human action should shape it in response to those tendencies.

Theme of overpopulation as a natural tendency which is a disorder for human flourishing (Malthus) and as a regulatory princile which makes it possible to describe the biological world mechanistically (Darwin). Both advocate a resignation to laws of nature in culling human population -- a view which Blumenberg has no sympathy for, and celebrates the nineteenth century for finding a way to oppose it through technical progress.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Machiavellian Moment by J.G.A. Pocock

Chapter 1, Part 1

Temporality, Contingency and Infinity are necessary elements of human political society. Traditionally, philosophy's purview was not the temporal. But, republic/Aristotilian polis as well as Christianity dealt with the universal and its attainment. These universals were timeless. For Aristotle, the universals were values for which the citizens of the polis strove. For Christianity, it is a God who is outside of temporality but a Being for which humans strive to relate. Here, eternity is the goal of human striving.

We live with each other. There are modes of behavior under the rubric of politics. Initially, republicanism was the mode. Since it deals with events and their relationships, which are temporal, they are supra-philosophical--outside of philosophy. Republicanism is an explanation of events as its core which in term makes it a form of historicism.

The problem: How to overcome the republican ideal of universals with secular particularity?

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part II, Chapter 4

Key difference between Epicurean and modern objectification of nature: there is no 'technical implication' for Epicureanism. Epicureanism doesn't posit man's need to dominate nature. Aim is neutralization, not control.

Decartes' radical doubt transforms an existing predicament into a chosen challenge. His evil spirit (genius malignus) is an intensification of Nominalism's 'hidden God' (deus absconditus) who is is not committed to dependabilty except to the elect (who are unknown even to themselves).

William of Ockham - God can produce ideas without objects -- crux of late Nominalist encounter with prospect of radical uncertainty of knowledge.

Peter of Ailly - in ordinary circumstances, certainty about physical objects can be assumed ; otherwise, knowledge of nature would be unattainable.

Heidegger takes domination of nature to be the characteristic attitude of modernity but already had assertion of inviolable agency of judgment in Nominalist thinkers without project of domination.

Gregor of Rimini - man's senses may not correspond to reality, but man need not be deceived because he retains the capacity to withhold judgment about reality. (Note: Decartes also finds freedom from deception in ability to withhold judgment.)

By radicalizing doubt, Decartes undercuts earlier pragmatic formulas for self-assertion provided within Nominalism -- self-assertion after this requires strong subjectivity.

Jean de Mirecourt - If God could create ideas without objects, then He could also create actions without supposed agent being responsible. This possibility is rejected on grounds that it would make moral responsibility uncertain. Both moral and theoretical agency inhere in an inviolable subject which cannot be deceived by an external force.

196-197: "Under the enormous pressure of the demands made upon it by theology, the human subject begins to consolidate itself, to take on a new overall condition, which possesses, in relation to the ambushes set by the hidden absolute will, something like the elementary attribute of an atom, that it cannot be split up or altered. Absolutism reduces whatever is exposed to it, but in the process it brings to light the constants, the no longer touchable kernels.
The ius primarium [primary right], the primeval right to self-assertion, becomes comprehensible long before Decartes and Hobbes as the essence of the modern age's understanding of iteslf -- that is, as the anthropological minimum under the conditions of the theological maximum. This beginning does not come about as the formulation of anew concept against an old one, as the constitution of an epoch after the old one has broken off, but rather as the mobilizing of motives toward the definition of an opposing force, precisely while the attack is being intensified; not as the negation of the premises rather as a condensation under the pressure of their exaggerated power."

Withdrawal from world of guarantees of certainty and consequent treatment of its character as hypothetical -- condition for modern attitude of natural science

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part II, Chapter 3

So, you've surely been asking yourself why modern self-assertion emerged at the end of the Middle Ages and not earlier -- say, in response to the Gnostic challenge of late antiquity. Oh, you haven't then? Not to worry. Hans Blumenberg, clever man, has been pondering the question for you.

typically odd deployment of erudition to introduce a theme without seeming responsible for bringing it up himself ... an account of the Leibniz-Arnaud debate deployed to bring in (smuggle in) the theme of the comparability of Epicureanism and Nominalism

beats Macintyre's name dropping of the Scottish Enlightenment, for instance


I read the chapter a second time, and the segue into the comparison of Nominalism and Epicureanism felt more natural.

Perhaps this comparison really isn't to the point, however. What is supposed to be elucidated is the difference between the epochal crises that ended antiquity and the middle ages, respectively. (The chapter is entitled "A Systematic Comparison of the Epochal Crisis of Antiquity to That of the Middle Ages.") Blumenberg had already assigned Gnosticism the role of instigator in the crisis of antiquity, however, as he acknowledges again here (p. 148). Blumenberg motivates his chosen comparison by noting that the patristic tradition borrowed the Stoics' arguments against Epicureanism (and indeed borrowed much of Stoic cosmology) for their battle with Gnosticism. Still, this puts Epicureanism at one remove from a truly parallel function to Nominalism's role in the Medieval crisis.

Three points of comparison of ancient Epicurean atomism and medieval nominalism

1. The arbitrariness of what exists.

Epicureanism - The world is not created in accordance with any model, or even created at all; it is the outcome of chance. There is no special significance to this world, so we can take an attitude of detachment and indifference to it, or at least to knowledge about it. Subjective consequence: repose.

Nominalism - There is no model for anything in creation, because God's power must not be bounded even by the existence of a pattern or form. Subjective consequence: uncertainty, instability.

2. The plurality of worlds.

Epicureanism - That chance has thrown up many worlds illustrates that there is nothing ordained about this world. One's situation in it is not a matter of cosmic justice and order. So we can take an attitude of indifference to what fate has in store for us, because there is no design to it. Note that to make this indifference plausible, Epicureanism does depend implicitly on cosmological guarantees of the dependability of the world. At the same time, it destabilizes the heavenly bodies by bringing them into the same order of chance as everything else, thus undermining any attempt to seek meaning in contemplating the order of the heavens.

Nominalism - There must be a plurality of possible worlds, because God's power to create something new and different cannot be bounded. Shows that nothing is binding on God about this world; He could always change the world, end it, or create a new one.

3. Rejection of an anthropic teleology for the world.

Epicureanism -The key consequence is that man is not burdened by debt to the world because of it being made for him. At the same time, Epicureanism defuses the destabilizing consequences of rejecting teleology by holding that nature does in fact provide what man needs (Blumenberg sees this as a smuggling in of providential cosmology). Although the gods are not responsible for the world, they do provide a humanly accessible model of happiness.

Nominalism - Intensifies the medieval trend of withdrawing the tenet that god created the world the world or incarnated his son on behalf of man - because to do anything in reference to man rather than himself confilicts with the Aristotelean conception of divine perfection which increasingly defined Christian dogma.

Blumenberg's philosophy of history:
"Let us not forget that what is written here is not meant as a myth of the 'object spirit,' which plays out its dialectic with and over man. But there are phases of objectivization that loose themselves from their original motivation (the science and technology of the later phases of the modern age provide a stupendous example of this!); and to bring them back into their human function, to subject them again to man's purposes in relation to the world, requires an unavoidable counterexertion. The medieval system ended in such a phase of objectivization that has become autonomous, of hardening that is insulated from what is human. What is here called 'self-assertion' is the countermove of retrieving lost motives, of new concentration on man's self-interest." (pp. 177-178)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part II, Chapter 2

Scholasticism destroys confidence in the idea of an orderly cosmos congenial to humanity. This 'disappearance of order' provokes a reaction, but not to restore belief in a world that is good for man -- that has been permanently lost. Rather, this reaction accepts the unreliability, the changeability of the world, but therefore sees the world as something which man can act on to make it better .

Blumenberg sees the modern advance in technical matters as a radical break, not as the acceleration of a gradual accumulation that dates to pre-modern times. This is a case that would have to be made in much more detail to convince me.

139: "If the 'disappearance of order' that was brought about by the disintegration of the Middle Ages pulled self-preservation out of its biologically determined normality, where it went unnoticed, and turned it into the 'theme' of human self -comprehension, then it is also the case that the modern stage of human technicity can no longer be grasped entirely in terms of the syndrome of the anthropological structure of wants. the growth of the potency of technique is not only the continuation -- not even the acceleration --of a process that runs through the whole history of humanity. On the contrary, the quantitative increase in technical achievements and expedients can only be grasped in relation to a new quality of consciousness. In the growth of the technical sphere there lives, consciously facing an alienated reality, a will to extort from this reality a new 'humanity.' Man keeps in view the deficiency of nature as the motive of his activity as a whole."

In positing art as a more radical imposition of human will against the world than science and history (which are beholden to the world insofar as they seek truths in it), Nietzsche at least correctly identified what the turning towards modern consciousness hinged on: the rejection of the belief that the world is good for man just as it is.